Our intern Janice Bullock, a PhD candidate at Regent University, offers these beautiful insights into forgiveness, which she is walking through herself.
The Bible admonishes, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged…” (Matthew 7:1).
Initially, I thought this verse meant Christians should not make judgments. Ouch! I knew this was going to be trouble for me since I’m pretty opinionated. I used to entertain questions like, “How does God expect me to keep silent in response to injustices and innocent victims? Must I hold my peace in the face of travesties? Some things are just plain old evil.”
What about you? Have you ever wondered about this verse? I’m so glad the Lord clarified this verse for me. He revealed that he does not expect us to just roll over; accurate judgment and critical thinking are necessary life skills. Would you want to be the passenger in the vehicle of a driver who did not make good judgments while driving? And what about your health care decisions? Would you trust your life to a surgeon who was known for poor judgment while operating on patients? These concrete examples helped clarify the scriptures for me.
Paul affirms in 1 Corinthians 6:3, “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if you shall judge the world, are ye unworthy to judge the most minor matters?”
What I take from these verses is that Christians should make righteous judgments. We should demonstrate empathy and humility when we have to make judgments regarding others or when we have to correct others. I believe it is only by constant awareness of our need for a Savior that we can do these things. Matthew 7:5 reminds us that we must first remove the beam from our own eyes before we can see clearly enough to remove the mote from our brother’s eye.
So I have a better understanding of righteous judgment now. But guess what? I’m still missing the mark. I realize I’m way too critical and judgmental. For some reason, I seem to have an eye for spotting irregularities. I can find a fault in the midst of near perfection. I cannot help but wonder how much my previous employment as a psychological evaluator contributed to this mindset.
In Managing Anger and Learning Forgiveness, Dr. Evelyn Biles writes that critical judgmentalism is associated with shame in the critical person (ouch again!). Obviously, it’s easier to see Dr. Biles’ point than it is to walk in the truth of it. I’m willing.
By taking the focus off others and examining ourselves, we develop greater tolerance and a greater capacity for forgiveness. As a result, we will be more inclined to pray for others instead of criticizing.
Closely related to the issue of forgiveness is the need to forgive quickly. This, too presented as an insurmountable task for me. Once again, I found myself debating with God, “How can I forgive right now? I’m too angry to even think about this person’s needs right now.” Ephesians 4:26 says, “…do not let the sun go down upon your wrath.” On the surface, it seems like the scripture is saying we must resolve all disputes, kiss and make up before our head hits the pillow. If this is the point, I’ve failed more times than not.
Fortunately, a closer look at the scriptures indicates forgiveness is an ongoing process, and it takes some nurturing as indicated in Matthew 18:21 and Mark 11:25. The main point is that we should initiate the process of forgiveness as soon as possible; the process of forgiveness is continuous. Whew…I’m glad the Lord cleared that one up, too!
What does this process of forgiveness look like? The REACH model by Everitt Worthington is a good place to start. It says:
- RECALL the hurt.
- EMPATHIZE by replacing negative emotions with compassion.
- ALTRUISM: give the gift of forgiveness to the other person, for them.
- COMMIT to the forgiveness experience.
- HOLD ON to the forgiveness experience.
The REACH model cleared up misconceptions I held regarding the role of feelings in forgiveness. I mistakenly believed my negative feelings had to be gone before I could forgive someone. I now understand my feelings are only one aspect of the forgiveness process. According to Dr. Biles, every person proceeds through the forgiveness process at their own pace, and we cannot rush the process. Also, it’s important to share our feelings with someone willing to listen. A supportive friend or a small group can provide a safe space for sharing feelings, acknowledging unforgiveness, soliciting help, and receiving support.
Another misconception I had regarding forgiveness has to do with the verbal expression of forgiveness. I used to think it was necessary to verbally express forgiveness. Likewise, I used to think the offender had to verbally apologize to the person he/she offended. I now realize verbal expressions of forgiveness are not necessary. Forgiveness involves a deeper level of thought. As Dr. Biles shared, it’s possible to say we’ve forgiven when we have not forgiven, and it’s possible to forgive without uttering the words. I’ve seen both of these personally. My husband could demonstrate forgiveness by his actions, but I would still want to hear a verbal apology. Thank God for His grace. I can recall how I had been quick to say I had forgiven others but my actions did not support this. We can unknowingly delay the forgiveness process by not understanding what forgiveness is and what it is not:
Forgiveness is not always reconciliation. That’s the ideal outcome of forgiveness, but it’s not always possible. Reconciliation is the responsibility of the offender. The offender must recognize her wrong, take corrective action, and stop the offending behavior. Whenever we’re offended, our responsibility is to accept the offender as a human and understand that reconciliation is not necessary. According to Dr. Biles, forgiveness is the voluntary surrender of the right to be angry, in exchange for the opportunity to show compassion towards someone who is not entitled to it. So forgiveness also enables us to enjoy a more fulfilling relationship with God by helping us become more like Him toward others.
Forgiveness is not always permanent. Despite some previous successes with forgiveness, I still struggle with forgiving where there are constant reminders of offenses and continued violations. Despite having made verbal proclamations of forgiveness, I find the forgiveness has yet to reach my heart. I realize there have been times when I only uttered the words of forgiveness. I had no genuine desire for forgiveness or regard for the offender, both of which are necessary for real forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not always easy. Dr. Biles warns of the pitfalls of forgiveness language, figures of speech, and trite sayings. (Like reading Old Testament judgments and wishing God would strike down our enemies – it doesn’t work!) These strategies are often hidden forms of revenge, according to Dr. Biles. Seeing the offender as a person separate from his actions can be difficult, but it’s necessary and helpful. These revelations have helped me further examine myself. Although I have not completed the process of forgiveness toward every person in my life, I remain committed to working through it. I recognize God permits no excuses for withholding forgiveness. I have no illusions. I know it will only be by God’s grace that I’ll be able to progress through the stages of forgiveness.
Moving from judgment to forgiveness, we can all find encouragement in the Word of God and His unconditional love. I appreciate God’s patience with me more and more each day, and I trust that what He has begun in me, He will finish. He will do the same for you.